Leprosy Bulletin No.110 Ambassador’s Message: “Don’t Forget Leprosy” throughout the world

WHO Goodwill Ambassador Yohei Sasakawa spreading the “Don’t Forget Leprosy” message from the top of Japan’s tallest mountain, Mt. Fuji (3,776 meters). Sasakawa reached the summit at 4:42 a.m. on August 4, 2022, following a successful climb from the fifth station at age 83.
Mingma David Sherpa, Guinness World Record holder and Executive Board Member of Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA), holding a “Don’t Forget Leprosy” poster on the peak of Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world (8848.86 meters) (May 15, 2022).

When I heard that a friend of mine in Nepal was planning to climb Mt. Everest in May this year, I had the idea to ask him to have his photograph taken at the summit with the message “Don’t Forget Leprosy.” At the recent World Health Assembly, I showed this photograph to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, as well as health ministers when I asked for their cooperation in eliminating leprosy. I was pleased to receive many positive responses.

However, as a person whose personal motto is “unity of knowledge and action,” I wondered about simply asking someone else to climb. I knew that at age 83 I would not be able to climb Mt. Everest, but I started to think about climbing Japan’s tallest mountain, Mt. Fuji, and showing the “Don’t Forget Leprosy” message myself. I began training immediately, and at 4:42 a.m. on August 4, I successfully reached the summit.

Eliminating leprosy from the world is my life’s work. Over the past half-century, I have traveled to more than 120 countries around the world to promote elimination of the disease and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their families. Just when I felt that we were on the verge of reaching these goals, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As a result, leprosy control measures in many countries have regressed, and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy still persists in many areas.

I hope that when you see the photo of me, an 83-year-old “young” man at the top of Mt. Fuji holding a banner amid gale-force wind, you will feel inspired to join my Don’t Forget Leprosy campaign.

Yohei Sasakawa
WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination